Ebonyi State University, Department of Animal Production and Fisheries Management, Nigeria
A major problem facing livestock farmers worldwide is how to economically maximise animal production with limited land availability. The situation is even worsened by desertification, leaching and population explosion in the humid tropics. The potential to increase ruminant production on these land areas can be realised if innovations in managing rangeland are adopted. Tropical pastures have long been recognised as capable of producing large quantities of forage dry matter; however, individual animal performance is normally less per animal than for similar animals grazing temperate zone forages. It was against this background that an experiment was designed to study performance of sheep grazing Brachiaria decumbens, Panicum maximum and Pennisetum purpureum in Leucaena leucocephala alley plots. Twelve paddocks of approximately 0.03ha containing leucocephala alley planted in rows 4m apart and interplanted with 4 rows of either B. decumbens. P. maximum or P.purpureum were each grazed by 3 sheep.The three grass combinations within the alley plots were replicated four times.The animals were grazed continuously for 28 days in the sub plots. Sheep grazing the Leucaena / Panicum plot had a higher (p < 0.01) growth rate (35.3 g d-1) than those animals grazing both the Leucaena / Bracharia (20.6 g d-1) and Leucaena / Pennisetum (15.5 g d-1) plots respectively. There was no difference between sheep grazing the Leucaena / Bracharia and Leucaena / Pennisetum plots. The total dry matter intake of sheep on the Leucaena / Panicum plot was higher (p < 0.05) (1.48kg DM d-1) than that of sheep on Leucaena / Pennisetum (0.69kg DM d-1) but not different from the Leucaena / Brachiaria (1.08kg DM d-1) plots. The total biomass from the Leucaena / Panicum (12.8 t ha -1), Leucaena / Pennisetum (12.3 t ha -1) and Leucaena / Brachiaria ( 11 t ha -1) plots were not significantly different (p < 0.05). These results demonstrate that grazing West African dwarf sheep in a Leucaena leucocephala / Panicum maximum plot improved their growth rate during dry periods when feed supplies are limited. It also underscores the poor performance of animals grazing Pennisetum purpureum in Leucaena leucocephala alley plot.
Keywords: Brachiaria, grazing, Leucaena, Panicum, Pennisetum, sheep